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Bottle and closure designs tackle tough issues

M ore and more, the trend in plastic bottles is toward brand differentiation," states Ross Bushnell, senior vp of sales and marketing for Silgan Plastics Corp. (www.silgan.com). "Our customers are asking us to develop bottles that will help them distinguish their products from those on the shelf around them."

The need for differentiation is certainly not new, says Bushnell, but the increasing presence of competing store brands has heightened the need for brand distinction. Silgan has a development center in Norcross, GA, that is dedicated to helping its customers achieve that level of differentiation, and the last 18 months have seen a significant increase in its use and in the value placed on it by customers.

"Two specific areas of differentiation where we have seen growth are dual-chamber bottles, where two products mix as they are dispensed, and shrink-sleeve labeling of bottles to achieve outstanding decoration," remarks Bushnell. " We have seen a dramatic increase in the use of sleeves just since last fall."

The use of in-mold labeling is also on the rise. Once common only in the laundry detergent aisle, the technique is now popping up on other household product-category packages and even on food containers and personal care products. Other methods that enhance shelf presence include screen-printed graphics and soft-touch surface effects—achieved both in molding and after molding with spray-on surface applications—that give bottles an added tactile appeal that magnifies their visual appearance.

"Experience has shown our customers that once consumers pick up a package and are pleased by its feel as well as by its look, they are more likely to purchase it," comments Bushnell.

Alcoa Closure Systems Intl. (www.alcoa.com/packaging) takes a proactive approach to consumer research and closure development. Rather than developing specific product configurations related to a particular customer, Alcoa measures consumer-need gaps associated with existing packages in the marketplace, uncovering opportunities for new product ideas to take to current and prospective customers.

"Companies are extremely impressed when you can show them consumer data that supports new packaging concepts," says Tony Smith, global marketing director for Alcoa CSI. Alcoa has also developed closure products to meet broad industry needs. Its Double-Lok XT plastic closure for carbonated beverage bottles, for instance, was developed to maximize carbonation retention performance during temperature fluctuations that can occur throughout the distribution process. Beverages can be exposed to temperatures ranging from 40 deg F during filling and at vending, to as much as 135 deg F in a closed truck or warehouse in the southwestern U.S. The innovative XT closure liner maximizes seal integrity and product freshness using a plug-side-seal design, ensuring product freshness over a longer packaged life.

In terms of innovation, Alcoa CSI's unique Vino-Seal™ glass wine closure has won numerous wine industry awards. In the U.S., the Vino-Seal was chosen as the sealing system for Whitehall Lane Winery's premium 2003 Reserve Cabernet. The Vino-Seal was designed by engineers at Alcoa as an alternative to cork that is more stylish and graceful than a screw cap.

The new closure looks like a decorative glass decanter stopper, offering an elegant look to top off an upscale wine bottle. Fitted with flexible o-rings, the stopper provides a sterile side seal, preventing contamination or oxidation. Made of a completely inert material, it also poses no flavor-contamination problem to the wine. A traditional neck sleeve ensures mechanical protection and tamper-evidence. The result is an easy-to-open, easy-to-reseal closure that eliminates the familiar struggle with a corkscrew. The closure is also available in the same configuration in acrylic and has potential with other food and beverage applications as a major advance over traditional closure systems.

The year 2006 marks the twentieth anniversary of the first hot-fill products in polyethylene terephthalate using a plastic vacuum-holding closure: the Quaker Oats Gatorade isotonic drink and Ocean Spray's cranberry drinks. The 43-mm closure was produced in the White Cap [now Silgan Closures, (www.silganclosures.com)] plant in Champaign, IL. In 2006, Silgan's Bill Thomas still sees the trend continuing, with bottlers switching from metal closures on glass containers to plastic closures on plastic containers.

"Up until a few years ago," says Thomas, "the changeover resulted from companies converting large-sized containers from glass to plastic. Today, the big news is the explosion in the single-serve market [primarily twenty-ounce or smaller containers] as it goes from glass to PET and occasionally polypropylene, and the resulting popularity of the smaller thirty-eight-millimeter closure."

Although hot-fill beverages began the transition from glass to plastic in 1986, it wasn't until 1998, Thomas remembers, that hot-fill food products like apple sauce and salsa began the change from traditional glass bottles with metal caps to PET bottles with all-plastic caps.

Some brand owners didn't want to give up the designs they were accustomed to having embossed or printed in detail on their metal caps, so Silgan developed the compromise composite cap—similar to the lid on Mom's canning jar—with a plastic fitment holding a metal panel that seals with a plastisol gasket.

"Another interesting trend in beverage closures," continues Thomas, "is the appearance of nonround closures."

The 43-mm closure on the Ocean Spray 64-oz multiserve container was designed jointly by Ocean Spray and Silgan Closures at Silgan's Innovation Center in Downers Grove, IL, to accommodate the seniors who typically purchase this product. The closure interior seals and unscrews like any other, but the exterior is shaped to make removal easier for hands with restricted strength due to age or arthritis.

"We're proud to be associated with such a forward-looking company," says Thomas. "We helped Ocean Spray be one of the first to use a plastic closure for a hot-fill product in 1986, and now to be the first to offer an ergonomically shaped hot-fill plastic closure."

Ball Corp. (www.ball.com), a leading producer of plastic bottles, reports that innovative packaging is playing an increasingly important role in the growing wine category, driven by consumers seeking greater convenience, variety or an easy way to try something new. Building on this demand, Ball has developed both a line of stock PET wine bottles and a unique, custom-bottle capability that will be displayed at PACK EXPO International 2006 (www.packexpo.com).

Designed using input from consumers, wineries, distributors and venue operators, Ball's PET wine bottles unite the premium look and feel of glass with the modern convenience of plastic. They offer an ideal package for occasions where glass may be prohibited, such as in public parks or at sporting events, or when consumers are traveling. Plastic bottles also weigh less than glass bottles, and offer packagers distribution cost savings on freight. These benefits—which Ball says can be achieved without sacrificing either product protection or brand panache —support the use of plastic bottles with brand owners while other practical considerations have appealed to consumers.

"Sales of single-serve, 187-milliliter wine bottles grew nearly twenty percent last year," says Jerry Rosenow, national wine category manager for Ball. "The size is just right for today's growing number of smaller households and individual consumers for whom a 750-milliliter bottle is just too much for the occasion."

For example, Ball has designed a custom, 187-mL PET wine bottle for Sutter Home Winery that preserves the look of the existing Sutter Home glass container. The winery launched four varieties in the bottles last fall and continues to expand distribution. Ball designed the Sutter Home bottles to run on the winery's existing glass lines to minimize the need for changeparts and simplify filling. "The transition into PET has been very smooth throughout the development, testing and production process," reports Wendy Nyberg, senior director of marketing for Sutter Home.


More information is available:
Alcoa Closure Systems Intl., 317/390-5082. www.alcoa.com/packaging. Booth S-2460.
Ball Corp., 800/428-7145. www.ball.com. Booth E-6910.
PACK EXPO International 2006, 703/243-8555. www.packexpo.com
Silgan Closures 800/515-1565. www.silganclosures.com. Booth N-3426.
Silgan Plastics Corp., 203/975-7110. www.silgan.com. Booth N-3426.
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